Alleged Incompetence

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Alleged Incompetence In a context where competence and good intentions is supposed to be what matters, it is generally frowned upon to exclude people based on superficial traits. This leaves two simple options for those who would like to argue in favor of unfairly excluding a person out of prejudice or bigotry against this person's gender or skin-color or sexuality or similar: Instead of attacking in an overtly bigoted way, it is safer to try to cast doubt over the person's competence or intentions. While the later requires relatively open hostility such as barbed “jokes” or overt demonization, the former can be done in ways which more easily comes across as if they were neutral and objective, and is easily combined with Setting Up To Fail. Framing the problem as simply being a matter of this particular person happening to be incompetent, thus making it look as if the problem is all about the targeted person personally. After all, nobody knows everything and nobody is skilled at everything. We all have weaknesses, and there are many situations where it is relevant and useful to point out such weaknesses. Being so common and usually innocent, this dynamic can easily be misused as camouflage for bad faith arguments and gaslighting – especially since people who gets criticized tend to get defensive and may easily mistake (or pretend to mistake) valid criticism for being thinly veiled bigotry. Actually prejudiced and bigoted allegations of incompetence can be done in at least four ways:

  • Allegedly Self-Evident Incompetence: Taking the incompetence for granted.
  • Mysterious Alleged Incompetence: Letting the alleged incompetence remain vague.
  • Unbalanced Alleged Incompetence: Blowing actual things out of proportion.
  • Essentialist Alleged Incompetence: Arguing that only people of certain categories can have the experience needed to be competent.

Examples follows below...


Allegedly Self-Evident Incompetence

  • Misogyny: A new engineer is hired at a company where almost all engineers are male. When the new engineer turns out to be female, several co-workers takes for granted that she's obviously incompetent – and thus act as if there's no reason to give her any fair chance to prove herself. They never admit, perhaps not even to themselves, that her gender is the factor which make them regard her as self-evidently incompetent.

Mysterious Alleged Incompetence

  • Racism: A new engineer is hired at a company where almost all engineers are white. When the new engineer turns out to be black, some of the coworkers have to actively hide their annoyance. Soon they start criticizing his job performance, even when there is nothing to criticize. Rather than making up specific things, they leave it vague. He has done bad things, everybody knows that. What kind of bad things? Well, many kinds! What kinds of bad things, then? Well, bad ones!

Unbalanced Alleged Incompetence

  • Homophobia: A new engineer is hired at a company where almost all engineers are very openly heterosexual. Coworkers keep asking the new engineer if he has a girlfriend or is looking for a girlfriend. When he eventually admits that he has a boyfriend, some coworkers starts scrutinizing his job performance and are very eager to report any faults they can find. The same fault is often treated as much worse when the gay guy does it than when someone else is doing the same, but people are still quick to learn that they can get in trouble if they do the same error as the gay guy at the same time as he's doing it. Doing the same error at another time is much safer, since rules which are enforced equally for everyone whenever the gay guy breaks them won't be enforced at all when only heterosexual employees break them.

Essentialist Alleged Incompetence

  • Apartweltism: A new engineer is hired at a company where almost all engineers are citizens in the country where the company is located. When the new engineer turns out to be an immigrant/expat from another country, some of the coworkers have to actively hide their annoyance. As they find out that certain relevant infrastructure in the new engineer's country-of-origin is different from the infrastructure in their own country, they decide that the new guy couldn't ever possibly truly get familiar with the system in this country. They decide that his background is simply too different, so that any skills he have learned in the past or will learn in the future will a priori be superficial and fail to truly get the job done even if all tests fail to show this inherent incompetence.